Breaking the Stereotypes of Technical Entrepreneurship

Miguel Guerrero (Tandon '19) is the co-founder and CTO of TABu, a mobile payment platform, integrated directly with leading point of sale systems, that allows venues and customers to save time and money. His first experience in entrepreneurship was when he created a gaming server community which eventually generated a total revenue of $500K. Over a period of time, he used the funding generated to manage his first developers. Since then, Miguel has successfully applied the learned skills to develop the TABu mobile application. To date, TABu has built secure payment processing and point of sale integrations with over 60% of the POS market share.

This post is part of the NYU Summer Launchpad 2017 blog series featuring NYU entrepreneurs’ first-hand accounts of challenges faced in starting a business and the lessons learned along the way. Learn more about the NYU Summer Launchpad 2017 participants here.

For technical co-founders, the experience of starting a company has unique differences from that of their non-technical counterparts. As a co-founding member of the team, providing insight and leadership to developing the business is a mutual responsibility. However, there are unique responsibilities that technical co-founders must fulfill to provide adequate technical support and development for the company.

The most obvious and stereotypical of these responsibilities is that of developing the initial product, or what many startup founders refer to as the MVP (Minimum Viable Product), which is used to pitch an initial concept to investors. Many entrepreneurs and enthusiasts consider this to be a primary role of the position, but in my opinion, the role of a technical cofounder is ultimately much more meaningful beyond this stage. In cases, where the team does not have a technical co-founder, hiring a chief technology officer (CTO) may be a good path to developing the first version of a product. However, it is also a common belief that the initial product can be successfully developed through non-technical MVPs, contract work, and hiring developers. Many startups are successful in doing this.

Startup founders like Jobs and Zuckerberg have influenced a certain view on entrepreneurship: That of a founder who created their initial products out of a dormitory room or garage. Even a decade ago, building an initial product was certainly a daunting task. Nowadays, there is an abundance of tools and learning materials which permit a much larger segment of the population to learn how to build an initial product. With academies like MakeSchool and online Q&A resources like Stack Overflow, much of the world’s technical knowledge is no longer exclusive to private institutions and research facilities. It is extremely important to understand that there is a clear distinction between building an initial product and being an effective CTO.

The true value of a technical co-founder lies beyond the stage of the initial product because the challenges and demands of a later stage product require extensive technical expertise and effective leadership. Once a product reaches a point of scale, then the true challenges of a technical co-founder begin to unfold. In the case of TABu, the company of which I am the CTO, it is my responsibility to be an expert in database management, server administration and a plethora of other skills that are only truly perfected with real expertise.

An important responsibility of the technical co-founder is to provide security expertise for the product. For example, we implement secure payment storage with card tokenization to ensure that users’ payment information never gets passed through the infrastructure of our app. As one of the only architects of the early-stage product, the responsibility often falls upon the CTO to identify security implications when modifying or adding features to the existing product.

While there are many important skills that good technical co-founders share, the most important skill that a CTO must have is the ability to effectively manage the developers that eventually join your team. An early stage company may not have the funding to pay its first hires full-time salaries, therefore it is very important to create a working environment for developers that is both educational and productive. Technical co-founders should endeavor to develop the character and skill sets of their employees – and as your company grows, the technical acuity of your team should also grow. We can consider this growth to be a valid key performance indicator to gauge the effectiveness of a technical co-founder. Top tech companies such as Apple, Google, and Facebook show that having influence over the top talent in the industry becomes fundamental as a business reaches a later stage. Therefore, it is extremely important that a technical co-founder considers managing people and attracting talent to be chief responsibilities.